For a long time I was under the impression that during the rebellion of 1857 in India, Punjab remained totally peaceful and there was no disturbance at all. However, as I read more about this event and especially when I focused on Punjab I realized that I was only partially correct. It is true that Punjab was mostly peaceful and cooperating with the British Raj. But there was widespread disaffection among the units of Bengal Army, which led to many tragic events. Even among the civilians some fierce resistance was shown at a few places.
I shall start from the civilian resistance to the British Raj. Here I found only two incidents. One in the Gogera district led by Rai Ahmad Khan Kharal, and the second to a more limited scale in the Murree hills. I already have written a post on the same blog on Rai Ahmad Khan Khral. While searching about Rai Ahmad Kharal I found many little pieces of information here and there on the net.But the best was a research paper by Turab ul Hassan Sargana, titled Gugera Movement 1857: Nature, Extent and Significance.
Tomb of Rai Ahmad Khan Kharal (31° 04' 28.50" N, 73° 20' 01.70" E)
Gugera Movement 1857: Nature, Extent and Significance
The Gugera uprising was the most widespread and serious rising within the borders of the Punjab and or a while threatened the British fortunes in that quarter. It quickly engulfed the important stations of Kamalia, Pindi Sheikh Musa, Syedwala, Harrappa, Chichawatni, Tulumba, Serai Sidhu, Shorkot, Jamlera, Sahooka, Kaboola and Pakpattan. The numerical strength of the freedom-fighters can be noted by report of R.C. Temple, secretary to Chief Commissioner, according to which an official of the postal department informed the Chief Commissioner that the numbers of the freedom fighters amounted to exactly 125000 men. Elphinstone the officiating Deputy Commissioner of Gugera confirmed it by saying that all the native accounts agreed that the whole country as far as Tulumba, in the Multan District was in open insurrection. While the Census Report of 1855 tells us that the population of Gugera District was 3,08,020 and of the Multan division was 9,71,175. By this one can well imagine what a large number of people rose against the British in this area. Popularity of this movement can also be judged by this that the Muslim women were also sighted in action, “moving along the tops of the houses with their skirts stretched out, so as to cover the matchlock-men as they crept about from point to point.
The significance of Gugera uprising can be seen in the words of Cave-Browne who maintained that the crisis during these days of September until the fall of Delhi was even greater and of more consequences for British survival than that marking the months of May and June.
Gugera, now a town in District Okara in the Punjab Province, was a district of Multan Division in 1857. It was given the status of district by the British East India Company Government in 1852, three years after the annexation of the Punjab. It was situated on the south bank of the River Ravi and upon the old military road from Lahore to Multan, 40 kilometers to the North-East of the present station Sahiwal1 At Gugera, local tribes, Kharrals, Wuttoos, Fatianas, Qureshis, Kathias, Wehniwals Mardanas, Tarhanas and Baghelas under the leadership of Ahmad Khan Kharral rose up against the British on September 17, 1857 but before this three important events had been happened which set the mind of the tribes to rise.
First, on July 8, 1857, at the village of Lukhoke in the Pakpattan tehsil the people of Joiya tribe refused to pay the land revenue to the British authorities. The British attacked the village, and a large number of people were fined and imprisoned in the Gugera jail.Secondly, on July 26, 1857 the prisoners in the Gugera jail made a desperate attempt to affect their escape during the night. In this attempt, 17 prisoners were shot in the fray, 33 wounded and 18 succeeded to escape.3 According to native accounts, about 145 prisoners were killed and it is also said that more than 100 British or native soldiers were also killed in this encounter.4 Another important event was that at the end of May, 1857 news of the uprising of the Hurriana Light Infantry and of the Irregular Cavalry stationed there reached Gugera. The British authorities of District Gugera decided to send a force there.5 According to folklore, at this occasion, Berkley, the Extra Assistant Commissioner of Gugera, asked Ahmad Khan Kharral to provide men and horses for this campaign but Kharral refused to do so. Here is a beautiful dialogue between Berkley and Ahmad Khan in this song.
The Englishman Berkley says, Provide me mares, Rai Ahmad and I will secure a citation for you from London. Rai Ahmad says, “no one in his life ever shares wives, land and mares with others”. On the night of September 16, 1857, Sarfraz Khan Kharral of Kamalia, a rival of Ahmad Khan Kharral informed N.W. Elphinstone officiating Deputy Commissioner Gugera about the intended uprising of the tribes.7 As soon as Elphinstone got this information, he immediately sent Berkley with 20 horsemen to arrest Ahmad Khan Kharral but he failed to do so. Berkley burnt the town of Jhamra and returned with 20 prisoners and 700 cattle. On 20th September Elphinstone dispatched Lieutenant Chichester and Lieutenant Mitchel to attack the freedom-fighters who might have been assembled at Pindi Sheikh Musa and its suburbs. They found no freedom-fighters there, burnt the town of Pindi Shiekh Musa and returned.9 On 21st September, the British attacked Ahmad Khan Kharral and his companions at a place
Gishkowree. In this battle 14 or 15 horsemen of the British were killed but they succeeded to martyr Ahmad Khan Kharral and Sarung, the Chief of the Bege Ke Kharrals.10 Although British had to face severe loss in this expedition but it was an irreparable disaster to the freedom-fighters. The martyrdom of Ahmad Khan Kharral created a feeling of revenge in the people of whole area. On 22nd September, the very next day of martyrdom of Ahmad Khan Kharral, the men of Fatiana, Tarhana and Mardana tribes led by their chiefs Bahawal, Salabat and Walidad respectively assesmbled and attacked Berkley and his men. Berkley was killed along with 50 men of his detachment. According to British records as well as native accounts, the first fatal blow was struck by Murad Fatiana. In October, the British gathered their all forces at Gugera. Reinforcements reached there from Lahore, Multan, Gujranwala, Jhang and Leiah. Commissioner Lahore A.A. Roberts and Commissioner Multan Major G.W. Hamilton arrived Gugera with their allies. Among them prominent were Makhdoom Shah Mahmud Qureshi of Multan12, Mustafa Khan Khakwani13, Sadik Muhammad Khan Badozai14, the Chiefs of the Lungrial clan, Bahawal and Machhia15, Sarfraz Khan Kharral of Kamalia, Ziadat Khan Daha of Khanewal and his son17, Dhara Sing Nakai of Gugera18, Khair-ud-Din Khan of Kasur19, Bawa Khem Singh Bedi of Rawalpindi20, Sardar Nihal Singh of Rawalpindi, Jeevay Khan Araeen of Village Akbar22 (now in district Sahiwal) and Bawa Hardit Singh of Rawalpindi.
On the contrary, the freedom-fighters could not get help from anywhere. Delhi had been re-captured by the British on September 20, 1857. As the leaders of the freedom-fighters were fully conscious that their warfare could not equal that of the government, therefore, they requested Nawab of Bahawalpur to come forward but he refused to help them. Only due to their enthusiasm, bravery and power of faith they succeeded to continue their struggle even till January 1858. At last some of them surrendered and the Gugera uprising was crushed by the British. According to native accounts hundreds were blown from canons and a number of people were imprisoned for life. A countless number of people were sent to Andaman Islands popularly known as “Kala Pani” or Black Water. Among them who were sent to Andaman or Kala Pani, prominent were Bahawal Fatiana, Murad Fatiana, Mokha Wehniwal, Majhi Bushaira Kharral, Lal son of Ghazi Kathia, Muhammad Yar Mardana, Rehmat Khan, Kada Mardana, Walidad Mardana, Chief of his tribe and Nadir Shah Qureshi of Pindi Sheikh Musa.
The Gugera Movement was the most widespread and serious uprising within the borders of the Punjab, and for a while, threatened the foundation of the British rule in the region. It started from Jhamra and Gugera and quickly engulfed the important stations of Kamalia, Pindi Sheikh Musa, Saiyyidwala, Harappa, Chichawatni, Tulumba, Serai Sidhu, Shorkot, Jamlaira, Sahuka, Kabula and Pakpattan. The strength of the freedomfighters can be estimated from the report of R.C. Temple, Secretary to the Chief Commissioner, according to which a Muslim official of the postal department informed the Chief Commissioner that the numbers of the freedom-fighters amounted to exactly 1,25,000 men. The statement of Elphinstone, the Officiating Deputy Commissioner of Gugera, also confirms the strength of the freedom-fighters that the whole country as far as Tulumba, in District Multan, was in open insurrection. While the Census Report of 1855 tells us that the population of Gugera District was 3,08,020 and of the Multan division was 9,71,175. By this one can imagine that what a large number of people rose against the British in this area. The popularity of this Movement can be judged by the fact that even the Muslim women were also sighted in action, “moving along the tops of the houses with their skirts stretched out, so as to cover the matchlockmen as they crept about from point to point”. Reinforcements for the British were rushed from all possible quarters, i.e. Jhang, Leiah, and Gujranwala and repeatedly from Lahore and Multan. Still the freedom-fighters did not give up, and even the fall of Delhi failed to discourage them. Twice the freedom-fighters succeeded in winning over the control of the town of Kamalia, but the British again occupied it. Leaders of the Gugera Movement were in close contact with the freedom-fighters of Delhi and Hansi, and on September 17, 1857, when the fierce and heroic defence of Delhi reached its peak, the Movement began. This critical situation is described by Cave-Browne, who testifies the deep anxiety among the British officers in Lahore after their communication with Multan had been cut off, and news came in that “the whole of the Gugera District was in arms”. John Lawrence was at Lahore at that time. He fully appreciated the momentousness of the danger. In the words of Cave-Browne, “[t]hough he had risked everything for Delhi, and Delhi had now fallen, all might still be lost if that spirit of unrest which was astir throughout the Punjab were once allowed to gain head”.
The Provincial Government deliberately underrated the Gugera Movement by asserting that it was not dangerous but difficult to be suppressed. On the contrary, Cave-Browne maintained that the crisis during these days of September until the fall of Delhi was even greater and of more consequences for the British survival than that marking the months of May and June. Ahmad Khan Kharral, the mastermind behind this Movement, was reported to have been in constant communication with the freedom-fighters of Delhi and Hansi, and with the Mughal Emperor himself. He publically renounced his allegiance to the British and claimed to fight under the orders of Emperor Bahadur Shah.36 Other Muslim Chiefs who participated in the Gugera Movement included several leaders, like Nadir Shah Qureshi of Pindi Sheikh Musa, Walidad of Mardana Clan, Salabat of Tarhana Clan, Mokha of Vehniwal Clan, Bahlak Wuttoo of Wuttoo Clan, Mehr Bahawal and Mehr Murad of Fatiana Clan, and Muhamand Khan of Kathia Clan.
The British authors have tried to devalue this movement, and defame its leaders by calling them cattle-lifters and thieves. However, the historical record does not verify this assertion. Even the opinion of some British officers contradicts it. Major F.C. Marsden, Deputy Commissioner Gugera, reported, “When I reached Gugera, I found it had been attacked by the powerful clan of Kharral under their old chief, Ahmad Khan, a wealthy, determined old patriarch”. According to Montgomery Gazetteer, Ahmad Khan Kharral was an exceptional leader with qualities of head and heart. He was courageous and bold and it was he who had roused the people. Even after a century and a half, he is remembered as a hero in the folklore and folk songs. A folk song or dhola testifies the above-mentioned statement of Marsden as such: He was chief of all clans. He had been resisting previous government. Ranjit Singh avoided confrontation with him and used to bypass his areas. Similarly, about another leader of the Gugera Movement, Mehr Bahawal Fatiana, Cave-Browne wrote that he was thegreatest man among them, the bravest and most influential. Another leader, Murad Fatiana has been tributed in a song in this way: There is no chief like Murad, although a number of people wear white dress. The people of Ravi remember him and wish that if once Murad, son of Dalail, could come back.
The people of the Punjab still have great respect and devotion for the leaders of resistance, and consider them as their hero. The objective of the leaders of the Gugera Movement can be clearly assessed from the letters written by these leaders. For instance, Bahawal Fatiana, Salabat Tarhana and Sarung Vehniwal wrote a letter to Woordie-Major Mir Barkat Ali of 1st Irregular Cavalry, requesting him to leave the British army and help them against the British. They offered him the leadership of their resistance movement, and they were ready to afford all expanses for the feeding all the men and horses, which he might bring along. They wanted to get his support for the independence of their country from the yoke of the British. Similarly, some leaders of the Gugera Movement named Muhamand Kathia, Nathu Kathia, Murad Kathia, Amir Kathia and Lal Kathia, Bahawal Fatiana and Salabat Tarhana wrote a letter to the Nawab of Bahawalpur, in which they wrote: Whereas intelligence was received to the effect that the King of Delhi was making war against the English Government for the sake of establishing Muslim regime under the Divine command, on hearing this happy news, all the Zamindars of this country rose up for struggle against the English authorities of the Multan Division. Accordingly, we are fighting against them upto the present time…if you are firm in the religion of Islam, we have about 18000 fighting men ready to serve wherever your highness may require them…we beg that, for the sake of God and his Prophet, your highness may lend your hand and assist us, for which you will be rewarded at the Day of Judgement.
If we analyze these letters impartially, the correct picture of the designs of the leaders of the Gugera Movement becomes clear. They were not thieves or cattle-lifters, rather they were rich and influential people of their areas, and the people had great love and respect for them. For example the Superintendent of Gugera jail had great devotion for Ahmad Khan, and allowed him to visit the jail inspite of strict restrictions by the British authorities. Similarly, the guard refused to give boats to Berkeley, Extra Assistant Commissioner, since Ahmad Khan had ordered him not to do so, and he considered Ahmad Khan as the king of the area. The above-mentioned letter of the freedom-fighters also reveals that they tried to invoke religious symbols for mustering the support of the Nawab of Bahawalpur. For them, revival of Islam meant restoration of political authority of the Muslims. In other words, for them revival or protection of Islam was not possible without establishing Muslim political authority. It was a pre-requisite for their desired protection of Islam. So they were ready to sacrifice their lives as well as their property for this purpose. In the end we may conclude that the leaders of the Gugera Movement were neither thieves nor cattle-lifters, they were popular leaders of the people in their respective areas in the Punjab, who led the resistance movement at various places in the province. They were neither rulers, nor sepoys, but were freedom-fighters. They had no personal grievances against the British. Neither their jagirs were confiscated, nor their pensions stopped. They fought for a noble cause which was to eliminate foreign rule from their homeland.
A small Christian cemetery on the outskirt of Gogera, reportedly the burial place of Lord Berkley.
(30° 57' 51.50" N, 73° 19' 55.00" E)
The second incident of rebellion among the civilians occurred in the hills of Murree. Like Punjab and Kashmir, Murree too was under the occupation of the Sikhs until 1849. The people had always resisted the unpopular Sikh rule. Most of the people were apparently content with the British rule, but obviously there was some resentment as well. I wish we somebody could do a more thorough research on this subject. An article about the rebellion in 1857 in Wikipedia, states the events as under:
The War against the British reached Murree and the Southern Areas of Hazara part of which is now known as Circle Bakote in July 1857 when the Dhond Abbasi leader Sardar Sherbaz Khan planned to attack the British. Sardar Khan had managed to obtain the backing of the following important tribal leaders.
Satti leader Sardar Borha Khan
Karhal leader Sardar Hasan Ali Khan
Sardar Lalli Khan and Mian Abdul Aziz of Birote
Sardar Resham Khan of Ponch Kashmir
However the revolt did not succeed. The rebels were betrayed and as punishment, all of Sardar Sherbaz Khan's eight sons were blasted (by cannon fire) in Murree while Sardar Khan himself was hanged. The masterminds of this plan of independence were two Seyed brothers from Dhoke Syedan of Dewal Sharif. Not everyone had been against British rule, before British rule had been established in this area, the tribes had fought against the Sikh army. Under the command of the Pir of Plasi they had fought against the Sikh Army in Balakot - the troops here were commanded by Seyed Shah Ismail Shahid and Syed Ahmad Shaheed (known as the martyrs). Pir of Dewal Sharif late Abdul Majid Ahmed grandfather had also embraced martyrdom in Dewal fighting against Sikhs army chief Hari Singh Nalwa. Nalwa's troops had brutally crushed the tribes of Circle Bakote and beheaded many of them. The British, after battling in Rawalpindi in 1845 had captured Rani Jindan, the widow of Ranjit Singh (the former Ruler of Punjab) - this then caused the collapse of Sikh rule, when the British marched into the Murree area all the local tribes initially welcomed them with roses. Within a short space of time, many of the tribes then felt they had exchanged one form occupation for another one, and it was events elsewhere in India which encouraged the uprising. However the British had recruited many of the tribes in this area into their army, for example in this area large numbers of the Satti Tribe were recruited as Sepoys into the British Army and the British commanders (like elsewhere across Colonial India) won this war largely by the use of native infantry.
Second part of this post is about the rebellions in the native regiments of Bengal Army. Let me explain that the British forces in India were divided into three main components, working in three presidencies of British India, Bengal, Madras and Bombay. Bengal Army was the largest among all three. British army had two kinds of regiments. The first were recruited in Britain and all the ranks from soldiers to officers all were British. These were about one third of the total army. The second were raised in India and Indian soldiers were recruited in to them. But all the officers were British. It was in these regiments that the rebellion broke out. The other two armies of Madras and Bombay almost completely remained peaceful. Of about 137 regiments of the Bengal army, more than 100 rebelled or were disarmed.
While writing about the rebellion of British forces in Punjab, I have taken most of the information from a book titled "The Crisis In The Punjab; From 10th Of May, Until The Fall Of Delhi" written by Fredric Cooper. The book itself is full of contempt for Indians. It was written by a writer who was serving the East India Company as the Deputy Commissioner of Amritsar, Punjab and was full of venom and burning with desire to avenge the British deaths at the hands of mutineers. He wrote the book during those tumultuous days and was published in London in 1858.
According to this book, in May 1857, 18,940 soldiers of the Bengal Army of the East Indian Company, were based in Punjab, of these 13,320 (70%) were Indians (or natives, as the British called them) and 5,620 (30%) were Europeans. However, there were many newly recruited regiments of local Punjabi Muslims, Sikhs and Pashtuns of the frontier region. As we know that rebellion started at Meerut on 10th of May and the next day early in the morning spread to Delhi. The news of this outbreak reached Lahore on 11th May in the morning. Needless to say that the news was a thunder bolt for the British. Next day more details were received about events in Delhi.
The Chief Commissioner of Punjab John Lawrence was in Rawalpindi, so Judicial Commissioner Robert Montgomery was at the helm of the affairs in Lahore. An urgent meeting of high civil and military officials was called at Anarkali, Lahore and it was decided to disarm all the regiments of the native infantry immediately. First of all Lahore fort was fully secured on the night of 12th and 13th. On 13th of May, early in the morning three infantry regiments 16th NI, 26th NI and 49th NI were called out in the parade ground of Mian Meer cantonment and were read out the order to lay down their arms. The soldiers after some protest laid down their arms as they had no other options. About 1,000 European soldiers and their artillery were positioned as such to take immediate action in case of any sign of rebellious intentions. The 3,500 unarmed Indian soldiers were ordered to go back to their barracks, were prohibited from leaving the barracks and put under surveillance. All this happened before the Indian soldiers got any wind of tumultuous events by that time taking place in Delhi and many other areas across northern India.
So far all was fine for the authorities as well as the Indian soldiers. But the next episode of Lahore native regiments was very tragic. On 30th July the 26th NI, suddenly rose and fled out of Lahore after murdering two British officers. Initially a dust storm concealed their direction of flight. So the pursuing party went southward to intercept them, while the fugitive soldiers were heading to opposite direction towards north, along the left bank of River Ravi. About 42 kilometers away on a ghat west of Ajnala on River Ravi (exact location is not known to me), the unlucky soldiers were intercepted by a local Tehsildar, helped by local police and a large number of local people. Who shot or drowned about 150 soldiers. In the meantime pursuing party of 90 cavalry men reached there. The rest of the unarmed, tired and famished soldiers were taking shelter on an island and along the river bank. They were in no position to fight or flee. They were gradually arrested and brought back to the shore on boats.
On a rainy night, with flooded plains full of mud, these hapless, terrified, hungry and tired human beings were marched towards Ajnala 12 kilometers away. They reached the police station by mid night. They were huddled into the police station and a nearby old tower. What followed next, I shall quote the author:
“The climax of fortunate coincidences seemed to have arrived when it was remembered that the 1st of August was the anniversary of the great Mahomedan sacrificial festival of the Bukra Eed. A capital excuse was thus afforded to permit the Hindoostanee Mussulman horsemen (90 pursuing cavalry men) to return to celebrate it at Umritsur; while the single Christian (magistrate of Ajnala), unembarrassed by their presence, and aided by the faithful Sikhs (Sikh irregular levies), might perform a ceremonial sacrifice of a different nature and the nature of which they had not been made aware of, on the same morrow. When that morrow dawned, sentries were placed round the town, to prevent the egress of sight-seers. The officials were called; and they were made aware of the character of the spectacle they were about to witness.
Ten by ten the sepoys were called forth. Their names having been taken down in succession, they were pinioned, linked together, and marched to execution; a firing-party being in readiness. Every phase of deportment was manifested by the doomed men, after the sullen firing of volleys of distant musketry forced the conviction of inevitable death: astonishment, rage, frantic despair, the most stoic calmness.” In this manner the executions continued for several hours until the number reached 237, when somebody reported the remaining soldiers are refusing to come out of the tower. When investigated it was discovered that: “Forty-five bodies, dead from fright, exhaustion, fatigue, heat, and partial suffocation, were dragged into light, and consigned, in common with all the other bodies, into one common pit, by the hands of the village sweepers.”
Thus 282 soldiers of 26 NI, were executed in Ajnala. Most probably a few, if any were able to escape. The soldiers were Bhojpuri / Awadhi speaking and it was not easy for them to mix in the local Punjabi speaking population. Especially, when Sikhs were very hostile to these Purbeea soldiers. Subsequently 41 more soldiers were captured and transferred to Lahore and blown away from the cannons. So the entire regiment of nearly one thousand soldiers was almost completely annihilated. The author was the deputy commissioner of Amritsar and thus responsible for this atrocity, exults in the following words:
“There is a well at Cawnpore*, but there is also one at Ajnala.”
*Referring to the massacre of British women and children, at Bibighar in Kanpur.
The executed soldiers were thrown in to an old well. Though the existence of such a well near Gurdwara Shaheed Ganj, was not a secret but it laid undisturbed until February 2014. When the well was excavated and human remains were discovered, along with coins of East India Company and military medals. At the time it was demanded by emotional people to erect a monument in memory of those martyrs. Perhaps initially people did not realize that it would be a great embarrassment to the Sikh people and their Punjab government. That’s why I think the idea was quietly dropped.
All the three above pictures, I took from the website of Hindustan Times & India Today.
Same day on 13th May, disturbance arose in Ferozepore, 75 kilometers south of Lahore. Brigadier Innes was the commander of forces in this cantonment. Two native regiments 45th NI and 57th NI were based here. When on the morning of 13th attempt was made to disarm them, both regiments responded differently, while the 57th laid down their arms the 45th openly rebelled and repeatedly attacked the huge arsenal of Ferozepore, biggest in Punjab, but failed to capture it. During this disorder 300 soldiers of 57th also deserted. Mutineers burned many houses and two churches and then fled away in small parties. They were pursued and hunted and mostly killed. They were far away from Delhi, the main rebel centre and Sikh States on the way were most hostile to the rebels. A part of 45th had neither mutinied nor deserted, they were arrested and after two weeks were dismissed and deported out of this district. The mutineers while fleeing towards Delhi killed many British in Sirsa, Hansi and Hissar (details are required).
An irregular force consisting of 300 Dogras, 200 Multani irregulars (described as “Kutar Mookhies”) and forces from Patiala, was sent to restore order in the above mentioned districts.
During this operation of restoring order, he mentions of a fight (place not specified, somewhere around Sirsa) with Bhattis, numbering two thousands of which 200 were killed. This battled was fought on 19th June, 1857. Next this force attacked a Ranghur village, Bitoul, (I could not locate it) where some rebellious soldiers had taken shelter. On 11th September, this force destroyed another rebel village of Mungolee (could not be located). In the words of the author:
"The slaughter of the rebels and mutineers spread terror among the disaffected throughout the whole district."
During this time many measures were taken to keep everything under control. The author describes those measures as such:
"To return to the immediate measures adopted. All conventional formalism was banished by Mr.Montgomery. His instructions sped swiftly throughout the country, and before the sepoys had time to recover from the blows at Meean Meer and Ferozepore, and ten days after at Peshawur, all outlying treasure had been brought under proper custody and temptation thereby removed. All letters had been way-laid ; the Hindoostanee element in the executive and detective force gradually fell into disuse; the cupidity of the villagers was excited by rich rewards for the capture of mutinous sepoys dead or alive; the great forts of Lahore and Govindghur had been abundantly stored; measures in all directions had been adopted against surprise, and the gaol guards were added to. Meanwhile the ordinary courts suspended not their functions, but the civil and criminal business was carried on with as much apparent calmness as if the most common-place occurrences of tranquil government existence were taking place, and the flames of rebellion were not lapping up province after province in Hindoostan."
In an attempt to calm down and warn the Hindustani soldiers the Chief Commissioner of Punjab issued the following proclamation.
“From the Chief Commissioner of the Punjab to the HINDOOSTANEE SOLDIERS OF THE BENGAI, ARMY. Dated 1st June, 1857. Sepoys,—You will have heard that many sepoys and sowars of the Bengal Army hare proved faithless to their salt at Meerut, at Delhi, and at Ferozepore. Many at the latter place have been already punished. An army has assembled, and is now close to Delhi, prepared to punish the mutineers and insurgents who have collected there. Sepoys, I warn and advise you to prove faithful to your salt, faithful to the Government who have given your forefathers and you service for the last hundred years. Faithful to that Government who, both in cantonments and in the field, has been careful of your welfare and interests and who, in your old age, has given you the means of living comfortably in your homes. Those who have studied history know well that no army has ever been more kindly treated than that of India. Those regiments which now remain faithful will receive the rewards due to their constancy. Those soldiers who fall away now will lose their service for ever. It will be too late to lament hereafter, when the time has passed by;—now is the opportunity of proving your loyalty and good faith. The British Government will never want for native soldiers. In a month it might raise 50,000 soldiers in the Punjab alone. If the "Poorbea" sepoy neglects the present day, it will never return. There is ample force in the Punjab to crush all mutineers. The chiefs and people are loyal and obedient, and the latter only long to take your place in the army. All will unite to crush you. Moreover, the sepoy can have no conception of the power of England. Already from every quarter English soldiers are pouring into India. You know well enough that the British Government have never interfered with your religion. Those who tell you the contrary say it for their own base purposes. The Hindoo temple and the Mahomedan mosque have both been respected by the English Government. It was but the other day that the Jumma Mosque at Lahore, which had cost lakhs of rupees, and which the Sikhs had converted into a magazine, was restored to the Mahomedans. Sepoys,—My advice is that you obey your officers. Seize all those among yourselves who endeavour to mislead you. Let not a few bad men be the cause of your disgrace. If you have the will, you can easily do this; and Government will consider it a test of your fidelity. Prove by your conduct that the loyalty of the sepoy of Hindustan has not degenerated from that of his ancestors.
(Signed)John Lawrence, Chief Commissioner.
Multan was one of the most sensitive points of Punjab, as it was lying on the way to Sindh and due to conditions around Delhi, only way of communication and supply for Punjab from other parts of India. But when the rebellion broke out, of all the soldiers stationed here, only 60 were Europeans. Two native regiments 62nd NI and 69th NI were stationed here and like all the regiments of the Bengal Army were showing signs of unrest. Luckily for British 1st Punjab and 1st Irregular Cavalry with some other elements were stationed here also. In addition the local police was also reliable. Major Crawford Chamberlain was the commander and he made his move on 10th June and disarmed the two suspicious regiments.
While commenting on the attitude of the population of Punjab, the writer makes the following remarks about the Sikhs:
“The Sikhs generally were most eager to aid in the capture of Delhi, from the existence of a most remarkable prophecy,—that they, in conjunction with " topee wallahs " (hat wearers, or the British), who should come over the sea, would reconquer Delhi, and place the head of the king's son on the very spot where the head of Gooroo Teg Bahadoor had been exposed, one hundred and eighty years before, by order of Aurungzebe, the Great Mogul. This vaticmation was almost literally carried out, for when the gallant Hodson had captured the old king and shot the two sons, his Sikh ressaldar, diligently remembering the oracle, secured its fulfilment; and for three days, on the spot foretold, the bodies of the king's sons lay a spectacle to men ; the glazed eyes of these miscreants staring sternly out of their dead heads on the very scene where they had ordered and witnessed the massacre of the English women and children.”However, his opinion about the Muslims is different:
"The true colours under which they fought have now long since been shown; they were simply armed tools of a Mahomedan insurrection."
The British authorities in Punjab were most worried about the reaction of Afghanistan and the Pashtun tribes of the frontier region. Afghanistan had a claim on Peshawar and mountains tribes too were under nominal British government. British were suspecting that if the things any further got out of control, the tribes who are just observing the direction of the wind and sitting on the fence, would not take much time to switch to the winning side. They even thought of offering Peshawar to Amir Dost Mohammad Khan, the ruler of Afghanistan to keep him on their side. But soon this idea was dropped and it was decided to act firmly against sepoy regiments and disarm them as quickly as possible.
One thing that went in the favour of the British was that there was nothing common between Indian soldiers and the population of the frontier regions. Neither language nor religion was common, as 80% soldiers were Hindus. So there was little chance of any collaboration between the two parties. In the Peshawar valley 12 native infantry regiments were based out of these 4 were cavalry. Most of them were disarmed tactfully, without any disturbance. However, most of 55 NI based at Mardan mutinied and its soldiers fled towards Soundkhour (a place I could not locate). They were hotly pursued by the British forces and 120 were “slaughtered”, while 150 were captured. Some of them took shelter in Fort Abozaie (could not be identified). Eventually all were captured or killed with the help of local population. Some were even sold as slaves. These events took place after 22nd May. 12 soldiers of this regiment were hanged and 40 were blown away by cannons at Mardan. Initially some fugitives were sheltered by people in Swat but later for the sake of reward and government pressure, handed them over to the authorities. All were executed. However, around Narinjai in Mohmand Agency, some villagers stood by the fugitive soldiers and fought with the British loyal soldiers. In result many were killed and some villages burnt.
A monument in memory of Corps Of Guides in Mardan, who served British in many campaigns, including in suppressing the mutiny. Photo by "jjawads" on google earth.
The British were extremely harsh with mutineers, but the soldiers who laid down their arms were only dismissed from the service and if conditions permitted, deported to their native homes with some money. For examples some soldiers of 10th regiment were simply deported with a payment of 4 rupees each.
Jullundur was another cantonment which saw considerable disturbance. On 7th of June, 36th NI, stationed here, rose in open rebellion and killed a few of their officers. The commander, Brigadier Johnstone, despite advice, so far had not disarmed this regiment. However, most of the European population of the station was ready for any eventuality so were able to save them. The mutineers were only able to burn many bungalows and buildings. The hospital was already burnt on the night of 4th June, despite that no measures had been taken to disarm the disaffected soldiers. Many officers were saved by loyal soldiers. 6th Cavalry regiment also joined the rebellion and soon this mob fled southward towards Phillaur. Where, 3rd NI also joined the rebellion. A portion of this regiment was based in Ludhiana, they also joined their comrades, when next day this party of mutineers reached there and engaged in pillage and looting and released the prisoners. But they did no stay there for long and fled toward Delhi. The British officers mishandled the affairs and lost many chances to intercept the rebels. Even the pursuit was halfhearted. The whole affair of Jullundur rebellion was most embarrassing to the government.
Jhelum was another station which saw great disturbance in 1857. The news of mutiny in Meerut reached Jhelum on 13th May. The European officers and their families were greatly panicked as all the troops based were Indians of 14th NI and 39th NI. The anxious military officers planned to tackle the situation with care and prudence. They ordered the 39th NI to march towards Shahpur (district Sargodha). In the meanwhile a force of 250 European soldiers was sent from Rawal Pindi to disarm this regiment. As soon as this detachment reached Jhelum, on 7th July, the regiment openly rebelled. A fierce fighting broke out which continued throughout the day. 44 European and 144 Indian soldiers were killed. During the night the rebels abandoned their positions and fled towards Kashmir. 113 were executed by the police on the islands in Jhelum River in a couple of days. 181 soldiers took shelter in the state of Kashmir and the ruler Mahraja Gulab Singh guaranteed their lives. But he died in two and a half months and the new Raja permitted the execution of 121 soldiers. The remaining, apparently escaped death. According to the defencejournal.com out of 500 about 40 managed to escape. The rest were captured and killed. The 39th NI, unaware of the fate of 14th NI was peacefully disarmed in Mianwali and Dera Ismail Khan.
A fort in Jhelum, where the Indian soldiers took positions on 7th July, 1857.
Spring's grave in Jhelum.
I took the above two pictures from a website:
A monument to the British soldiers who died in fighting in St. John's Church, Jhelum. (Wikipedia)
St. John's Church. I visited it on March 30, 2014.
Sialkot was one of the largest military stations in Punjab and had a considerable concentration of European soldiers. But they were removed after the break and marched towards Delhi. Hence soon only Indian elements remained there. When the news of events taking place in Jhelum reached here on 9th July, the Indian garrison consisting of a wing of 9th NI and 46th NI rose into open rebellion and started attacking their officers and other European residents of the cantonment. They already had made their plans for any emergency and ran to take shelter in a small old fort in the city. Many were not lucky enough to escape death at the hands of the mutineers. But most of the civilians, including women and children safely reached the fort, as the mutineers were busy in looting treasury and other properties. Some were even saved by loyal soldiers. The jail was also broken open and the inmates let loose. Rabble of the neighbouring villages also joined the looting of vast cantonment. The fort was just a mud structure and would not have stood even for an hour against the attack of rebels, in possession of 12 pounder guns. But in panic they did not attack the fort and preferred to flee Sialkot after a few hours.
Ruins of Sialkot Fort. British took shelter in this fort after the mutiny.
A commemorative plaque somewhere in Sialkot.
I took the above two pictures from a website:
The fleeing troops marched to Ravi in the east. The British authorities in Amritsar and Gurdaspur were alerted about this breakout. The rebels were marching in the direction of Gurdaspur. The famous commander of the movable column John Nicholson planned to intercept them at Trimu Ghat, 15 kilometers northwest of Gurdaspur and near Nainan Kot, district Narowal (exact location could not be identified). The rebels crossed the river and found the British force in waiting. The battle was short but fierce, the rebels fled after leaving 150 dead on the field. The remaining was hotly pursued and many drowned in the swelling river. Three to four hundred had fled to an island on the river, which were attacked and most of them killed there. Some probably managed to escape with their lives. In this battle the new Enfield rifle played the decisive role in the complete and easy victory of the British. This is the same rifle, which the rebels refused to use on the issue of cartridge grease. And that was the immediate cause of this great rebellion.
The above three pictures are of an obelisk and a building, built in memory of Brigadier John Nicholson, who led the action at Trimu Ghat. He held a very high reputation among the British and played an important role in organizing and leading the assault on Delhi. I took these pictures on April 9, 2009. The monument is located in Margalla Pass, near Islamabad at: 33°42'11.33"N, 72°49'29.25"E.
The last big disturbance in this region occurred in Peshawar. The 10th Light Cavalry had already been disarmed but on 10th of August they broke loose and tried to take arms and got hold of horses. At least three of English officials were also killed. About 200 soldiers escaped after procuring horses and ponies. A week later 51st NI mutinied and were chased and killed all over the cantonment. Some ran towards Sadar bazar but were hotly pursued. A large body escaped towards Jamrud, but was chased by loyal elements of the British forces, including Multani horse. The author gleefully reports that all were completely annihilated. The author reports that all were completely annihilated and concludes with utmost satisfaction, in the following words:
“Some idea may be gathered of the terrific and swift destruction, when it is remembered that the strength of the regiment before the mutiny amounted to 871. The Punjab Infantry shot and killed 125; Captain James's party killed 40; Lieutenant Gosling's party killed 15. The Peshawur Light Horse, the villagers, and H. M.'s 27th and 70th killed 36. By sentence of drum-head court-martial, on the same day, there were executed by H. M.'s 87th, 187 ; and by a similar summary tribunal, on the 29th of August, 167 ; also on the same date, 84 ; one thanahdar killed five: total, within about 30 hours after the mutiny, no less than 659 ! There were also 110 in confinement.”
Apparently it was the policy of the British not to show any mercy to the mutineers. In all such incidents the losses of the British loyal forces were negligible.
While writing this post I realized that how completely have we forgotten those all people who laid down their lives in 1857. Is it not amazing that most of us have no inkling of Rai Ahmad Khan Kharal and Sardar Sherbaz Khan? They were sons of this soil and laid down their lives while struggling against foreign occupiers.
More complicated is the question of how to remember the soldiers of Bengal Army, who were brutally killed in Ajnala, Trimu Ghat, Jhelum, hunted like animals in Peshwar valley or blow away from the cannons? What is common between them and us? They were mostly Hindu soldiers of an occupation army from far away regions of Ganges valley. They rose against their masters due to some reasons and in consequence were most brutally and inhumanely dealt with. Slowly I felt that first of all they were human beings and deserve all our sympathy for meeting such terrible fates far away from their homes, at the hands of foreign occupiers. Secondly though they were not from this region, but at least they were from Hindustan, with which we share common history and many cultural traits. In a wider context they were our compatriots. Thirdly they rose against an occupier, who just a few years back had conquered the region, which today we call Pakistan. I am searching for answers for many such questions and I hope the readers will share their knowledge and feelings with all of us.
They are part of our history and I strongly demand to raise monuments in Jhamra, Murree, Trimu Ghat, Lahore, Mardan, Jhelum and Peshawar in Memory of those fallen heroes, so that our children know about the history of their homeland.
Doha – Qatar.
April 26, 2015.